Academic journal article Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies

Unfinished Business

Academic journal article Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies

Unfinished Business

Article excerpt

Robert Murray Davis takes me and my publisher to task on several accounts, beginning with the 'premise' of the Brief Lives series. Wearing his mortarboard, Professor Davis says 'a book of this kind damages rather than advances an academic career.' I do not know where he got the idea that I was trying to climb the academic ladder--at my age it is a little late for that--but let me assure him that the last reader I had in mind was an Eng Lit don. With a nod to John Aubrey, each book in the series is meant to be informal, anecdotal, subjective and short: an appetizer rather than the four-course meal with trimmings Davis seems to be recommending. Yes, most (but not all) of my sources were easily accessible, but this does not make them any more 'questionable' than the texts Davis recommends. There can be no such thing as 'the last word' on any writer, particularly one as controversial as Waugh.

Davis accuses me of repeating Martin Stannard's imputation of vanity in respect of Waugh's piles. In fact I was guided by what Waugh himself wrote in his Diaries (25.1.47), about his wish, not granted, to be 'absolutely well and free from ointments for Laura's American treat'. It is true that I may have scanted what Donat Gallagher has to say about the annulment of Waugh's first marriage; as a lapsed Anglican I am not very impressed by Catholic sophistry. But the point I make--that Waugh might get an annulment if he could persuade the Vatican that neither he nor his ex-wife had ever intended to take their marriage vows seriously--does not seem a million miles from the conclusions Gallagher reaches. …

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